JOLIET – On Sunday, one of my fellow parishioners slipped a folded piece of paper into my hand during the kiss of peace.
“For when you have time,” she said.
On it she had written two things: a link to an article in a Texas magazine and a request for prayer. She didn’t need to say more. I knew what they were and why she gave them to me.
Her daughter-in-law Beverly Sliepka has bravely fought Huntington’s and now its latter stages. If you haven’t heard of Huntington’s disease, which breaks down nerve cells in the brain, you should know it’s as cruel as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive, always fatal, motor neuron also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
The article, called “The Long Goodbye,” likened being diagnosed with Huntingon’s disease as being diagnosed ALS, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s all at the same time.
Huntington is a genetic disorder. If one parents has it, a child has a 50/50 chance of getting the gene that carries it. If the person gets the gene, he will eventually get the disease. Like ALS, it’s fatal 100 percent of the time.
Why did my friend share the information? Probably because she occasionally shares updates. Probably because she wants to talk about it and knows I write about (and have experienced) unusual medical stuff. Probably because she knows I pray.
And probably because she wants people to know who her daughter-in-law was before Huntington’s claimed her; she doesn’t want people who did know her to forget. In fact, the first photo in the story shows her modeling as a cheerleader for a 1980 cover of Activity Supply magazine.
Earlier this month, the media reported that a new drug, although in the early clinical trial stages, just might slow the disease’s progression.
Unfortunately, Beverly Sliepka won’t live to see it and her family isn’t expecting it, even if I prayed 100 times for that miracle.
So why pray?
Well, I can pray for a peaceful and painless death. I can pray for strength and comfort for the family. But maybe the biggest benefit of prayer is not the multiplicity of words,
Maybe prayer also helps Beverly Sliepka’s loved ones feel less alone in the valley of the shadow, that they’re attached, if only in the spirit, to a larger body of believers who empathize enough to take a few minutes and intercede on their behalf.
Maybe pausing a few minutes from our business to remember a fellow wayfarer reminds us of our connection, and responsibility, to the rest of the human race.